Friday, October 23, 2009

The Great Indian Sacrifice

Elder brother, younger brother both fall in love with the same girl- but they both don’t know that about each other. Elder brother finds out that the love of his life is also the woman of his brother’s dreams. So what does the elder brother do? Step aside of course! Without telling anything to his younger brother. And pretending to the girl he loves, that he actually despises her. The girl then finds solace in the younger brother’s arms.

But hey, the story does not end there. The younger brother finds out about his elder brother’s feelings and the great sacrifice (usually through an overhead conversation between elder brother and mum/dad/best friend/sister). And what does younger brother do? Step aside of course!
And it need not be 2 brothers i.e. “Saajan”; it could be 2 best friends i.e. “Muqaddar ka Sikandar”, “Saagar”, “Naseeb” (the list can go on and on).

SERIOUSLY! Did anyone consider asking the girl who she wants to be with? May be it was neither of the 2 self-sacrificing dimwits!

What is with Indians and their penchant for sacrifice? Mothers are another guilty party. Forever sacrificing for their sons and daughters. And brothers for their sisters and vice-versa.

Sometimes I feel we are stuck in a 70s-80s social drama film wherein sacrifices reigned supreme. Remember the struggling Nirupa Roy of Deewar? The handsome and pained face of Vinod Khanna in Qurbani? (As he sings for “Hum tumhe chahatein hain aise” to Zeenat on the beach).

And the greatest sacrifice of all- Jai (Amitabh) giving up his life for his best buddy Veeru (Dharamendar) in Sholay. Sigh! And a lesser known one by Naseer in Karma. And Jackie in 1942- A love story. And the list is long...

Our female protagonists also are not left behind. Juhi Chawla in Aaina. A change of pattern here, with the younger sibling being the “sacrificing Sita”.

I believe this is because we all Indians suffer from a Ramayan and Mahabharat hangover. Brother’s sacrifice for bother- Bharat-Ram, Laxman-Ram in Ramayan; the Pandav brothers in various permutations and combinations in Mahabharat. Sita’s trial by fire coaxed by Ram and ignited by a dhobi (why a dhobi* I always wondered?). We are kinda ODed on mythology stories and almost every story has its roots seeped in sacrifice.

I think sacrifices are noble and some even pure (like the ones made by mothers). But I do think many times we give ourselves too much importance and the other person too little credit. May be they don’t need our sacrifices? May be they simply need a helping hand or a friendly chat? Or may be they don’t really need us at all?

Now that’s a thought! May be selflessness is just overrated? Who am I kidding?! I could not survive a day being selfish. The guilt would simply kill me. But I will aim for some emotional detachment and see where I net out. On that positive (ish) note, I sign off. Good Night!

* It is said that because of what the dhobi did to Sita, there is a curse on dhobis worldwide (OK, India-wide)- that as a community they will never really prosper and their strata in society will never rise. Probably true…have never really met an affluent dhobi. But may darzis (tailors) have transformed into fashion designers. Food for thought....

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Diwali Memories

One of my earliest most vivid childhood Diwali memories is my mum asking me (actually more like pleading me) to sleep in the afternoon so I would not be sleepy early at night and could enjoy Diwali celebrations. And I refused, as any self respecting 7 year old should. And rest assured while doing the puja at 8 pm (I was, still am, an early sleeper), I would be dozing off and telling my mom “I am sleepy”. This was even before the festivities had started. Nothing pissed my mum off more. And I could not understand her frustration. Here I am, a poor little kid, feeling sleepy and all I want is to curl up in bed, why should that annoy her?

It never occurred to me that my sleep pattern completely screws up her festive plans (a sleepy kid = an irritable kid = a bothered mum). And now when Sanil refuses to nap in the afternoon, when we have plans for the evening, I find myself in the same predicament as my mum did, all those years ago.
When this exact situation happened last Saturday with Sanil, I recollected this memory, and it got me thinking of my other childhood Diwali memories. Here are some key ones- in no particular order- except what comes to mind first. So here it is on “first come first serve basis”:

1) Pista-Badam biscuits (Almond-Cashew biscuits):
Ok, who came up with the idea that these actually make good Diwali presents? I don’t know anyone who really likes them, but yet every Diwali when I was growing up, they were distributed with gusto. They are way too sweet, hard enough to break your teeth and come in jazzy aluminium boxes. I am still convinced that there was only one box produced every year and was never consumed. As each person just passed it along to the next one, without ever opening it. (Ok well a few initial ones were probably consumed, and once people realised just how awful they were, they were passed along at the next house visit).

2) Ladis
This is a long string of crackers which is lit from one end and it explodes every few seconds until the spark reaches the end of the string. The noise level is close to a minor bomb blast and the effects on the environment- not worth even getting into that. It also served an indication of one’s status in life- the longer the ladi = the richer you are perceived to be (as you can afford to literally burn money). And every year the Desais and Singhs used to have a competition on the longest ladi. (My old Dakshina Park cronies will know exactly what I am talking about).

3) Silk saris
Diwali was the time when mums adorned in their finest silks. Red, maroon, bottle green, turquoise, fuchsia pink, magenta, navy blue- every possible bright color- and sometimes more than a few in the same sari. The lovely silk saris were accessorized with the most awesome jewellery pieces- gold with stones, kundan, meenakari work, jhumkas, chokers,’s no wonder that my favourite saris till date are kanjivarams and patolas. The new-agey “evening cocktail” saris can never have the same charm. (They do look incredible sexy though, especially when teamed up with a halter neck blouse, but well, as always, I digress.)

4) Saroj aunty’s cake
No Diwali was complete without Saroj aunty’s special chocolate cake (decorated with colored chocolate shavings). It still is the best chocolate cake ever. And even though aunty was kind enough to teach me to bake it and gave me the recipe- it never turns out like hers.

5) OD on cold drinks and ice-creams
Unlike for kids today, for us, “cold drinks” i.e. sodas were a treat for special occasions. As were ice-creams. Diwali was a time to gorge on both especially when parents take you visiting to boring old relatives houses. It also worked as a bribe to stop bothering parents when they entertained their friends.

6) House parties
My mum used to host Diwali lunches for many years. All my aunts used to make their specialities and there used to be 40+ people in my house. I loved every minute of it! Maya chachi’s batada wada, my mom’s dahi wadas, Mita chachis veg Manchurian, Priya chachi’s kheema, Kavita mami’s prawns...yumm! And lots of fun, laughter, jokes and pranks.
The most amazing thing in all this was- no matter how many people were in the house, no matter how noisy it was, no matter the chaos, no matter the mayhem, my badi mama (grandmom), found a place (and the peace) to take her afternoon nap. Nothing, nothing, ever stopped her from that. And the evening ended with Mita chachi making tea for everyone.

From all of these above, what I remember most is the excitement pre-Diwali, the anticipation, and joy that was experienced that was never a letdown. I cherish the togetherness, the love and the affection that bought the immediate families, extended families and friends altogether to bring rays of happiness in each other’s lives on this festival of lights.
And what is even heartening to know is that after all these years, that excitement, that anticipation and that love has not diminished a single bit.

Wish you all a very happy Diwali. May wealth, health and happiness never leave your side.

Diwali of 2009